Time to turn attention to (cigarette) butts

This is a guest post by New Westminster’s Ken McIntosh, former cop and author of Cap to the Nat, which chronicles six decades of minor league baseball at Vancouver Capilano/Nat Bailey Stadium with the Capilanos Mounties and Canadians from 1951 to 2008. Ken has recently launched two local baseball blogs: Vancouver Minor League Baseball and The Best In New West:1974 New Westminster Frasers Baseball Club.

Photo: Steven De Polo
Photo: Steven De Polo

As a former smoker I am just beginning to realize the impact that smoking has on the environment. Environmentalists are all over plastic water drinking bottles, idling and pesticides. But never a whimper about butts, butts.

Cigarette butts get discarded at the side of the road causing fires and pollution. Emptying ashtrays into the storm sewer grates, onto parking lots, onto the curb or sidewalk has become expected! Those butts have more poison and danger to fish, birds and other animals than some pesticides. But nary has a discussion taken place about the environmental impact of careless discarding of cigarette butts.

I once suggested to a friend who smokes that there should be a deposit taken on cigarettes and an environmental tax much like on beverage containers for the return of cigarette butts. Boy was that a lead balloon, as he became extremely indignant.

What a system to collect and dispose of cigarette butts would look like, I have little idea. Possibly by the ½ pound or pound – who knows, but I care.

Cigarette butts have caused many a house, business and forest fire. We need to think hard and fast about a solution for collecting and safely disposing of toxic cigarette butts. I have dug through many a fire caused by the discarding of a cigarette but incorrectly. I have also seen the damage that cigarette smoke causes to a human lung during autopsies.

Not only are cigarette butts damaging to the environment in so many ways so are cigarettes extremely costly to the health care system.

I challenge the environmentalists to continue my thoughts so that we as a society can first collect and dispose of cigarette butts safely, then use our knowledge to help curb the use of cigarettes for the betterment of our world!

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10 Replies to “Time to turn attention to (cigarette) butts”

  1. Our house is on a corner with a long stone retaining wall on one side. It's a favourite place for people who don't want their husbands to know they smoke to sit and have a butt. I'm constantly cleaning butts, packaging, and those little yellow "Warning: You are Killing Yourself" cards. Very annoying.

  2. The bus stop behind the Chinese Restaurant on 8th street, where I often wait is like a cigarette butt graveyard. In addition to a proper place to take shelter from the rain, perhaps an ashcan or two wouldn't go amiss.

    I think the reason that butts are so insidious is that they are so small, and insignificant looking. And when someone has nowhere to put them, throwing it any old where doesn't seem to be that big a deal. The problem of course is the illusion it creates – that in a city where ex-ciggies are strewn everywhere, anything goes when it comes to throwing stuff away anywhere you like.

  3. you know what? I think it just comes down to the "ick factor." wet ciggy butts are so gross (in my mind, on the level with wet bandaids in a public shower drain) that nobody really wants to be the one left holding the bag – er, butt – when they campaign for a clean up for cigarette butts.

    I encounter them all the time as when it is hot out they stick to my wheels and end up (EEEEW) on my hands. It is the height of rudeness in my mind, but also of futility. The fact that there are even smokers' rights groups in an age where we know what a huge health and economic burden smoking is on society is but a hint of the kind of denial and arrogance it requires to light up a stick of cancer-causing agents and inhale it several times a day.

    Will and I are children of a former heavy smoker, and we know first-hand how addictive and destructive a habit it is. But I really have compassion in some ways – an environmental tack toward getting smokers to quit will get nowhere because it is banging on the same wall that all of the other campaigns come up against – smokers fundamentally are chemically and behaviourally addicted, and no environmental argument will curb it. Smokers just have to want to quit.

    I'd support any environmentally-based butt cleanup campaign, but I have to say this is one cause gross enough that I wouldn't want to be the one campaigning for it when they respond "fine, then, clean it up!"

  4. Ewww – I didn’t think about them sticking to your wheels, Jocelyn! Gross. Cigarette butts are also a hazard for pets & small kids. When our dog was a puppy he would try to eat them off the sidewalk all the time, and when Wesley was first toddling around he would pick them up and give them to me.

  5. You know, if smokers don't use ashtrays outdoors, for all of it, including the ashes, we are LIVING IN ASHTRAYS!

    And it is ALL LITTERING, including the ashes – from cars, outside entrances, waiting for transit.

    This has been a pet peeve of mine for years.

    Ideas for vigilanti-ism? (sp?)

  6. As a casual collector of drink containers off the streets and parks around my house, I notice cigarette packaging and butts are the most-littered items, followed by fast-food packaging. It has made me think for a few years, what if we did put a deposit on the packaging? With cans and bottles, there's an incentive for someone to pick it up and get 5 cents. With cigarette packages, where's the incentive? I agree there would be some angry foaming about it, but it's good to see other people have wondered this as well.

    My mom (died of lung cancer, age 50) was the most considerate smoker I've ever met. She wouldn't smoke at bus stops, outside of doorways or windows (even before those bylaws came into effect), but she'd still throw her butt on the ground. I called her on it numerous times: Mom, that's still littering. But the sheer size of the butt, I think, convinces smokers that it's so small that it doesn't make a difference! I've heard (and won't reiterate here for the grossness of it) that if you pile up all the cigarette butts littering our streets and parks, gutters and sidewalks, it'd cover an area the size of X state. Yuck!!

    They definitely aren't something I want to touch with my hands. And it's just so disgusting when I recall my childhood, when various friends would pick up a cigarette butt and pretend to smoke it – something I never did (and I've never smoked).

    I may be particularly passionate about a smoke-free world, but is it SO STRANGE that we'd want smokers to cease littering everywhere??

    Thanks for the post, and the comments. It makes me feel a little bit better that I'm not the only 'crazy' non-smoker out there!


  7. I don’t see a problem with butts like you do.
    Infact they rot and disappear fairly quickly.

    Otherwise they would be a couple feet deep in every direction.

    The cotton filter is natural, the paper is bleached, but not so bad, and the tobacco itself, a plant leaf, is organic. There are plenty of plants that create poison. Theres that Bog weed or whatever people are scared off… Rhubarb leaves are poison…

    And that thing about costing the health care system, I don’t know if I agree with you on that on. Smokers tend to kick off quickly, it’s the people that try to live healthy that linger on year after year.

    And how about Obese people ? They cost us more too ?


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